Hillel letter: J Street U members add to ‘ideas within our tent’

An event flyer for J Street U's hosting of a speaker from the anti-IDF organization "Breaking the Silence" at Washington University in St. Louis Hillel on March 31, 2014. Credit: Facebook.

(JNS.org) A letter sent to Hillel International colleagues by leaders of the Jewish campus umbrella said Hillel's relationship with J Street will not change following the recent vote by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations to reject the membership application of the self-labeled "pro-Israel, pro-peace" lobby.

In a letter obtained by JNS.org, Hillel President & CEO Eric Fingerhut and board chair Sidney Pertnoy noted that Hillel is currently a non-voting adjunct member of the Conference of Presidents, and therefore did not participate in the vote on J Street's application.

"The vote has no effect whatsoever on Hillel’s relationship with J Street U and its student members. Like other Hillel students and student groups, J Street U’s members add their perspective to the rich tapestry of ideas within our tent," the letter stated.

"Hillel International was built on the value of pluralism and remains committed to embracing wide-ranging expressions of Jewish thought and ideals, and we believe our upcoming membership in the Conference of Presidents will be an opportunity to spread those values," it added.

Asked to comment on the J Street issue, Hillel Chief Administrative Officer David Eden told JNS.org, "Hillel’s relationship with J Street U and its student members has been well documented. Hillel welcomes all Jewish students into an open, pluralistic environment no matter their politics or perspectives. Hillel International empowers students at a campus Hillel to make decisions that reflect their local environments. This results in Hillels partnering with a diverse range of campus organizations, including J Street U and many others."

J Street U, the lobby's campus arm, has come under scrutiny for the events it has organized on different campuses. For example, on March 31, J Street U hosted a speaker from Breaking the Silence (BtS)—an NGO that works with Israeli veterans who severely criticize Israel Defense Forces operations—at the Hillel chapter of Washington University in St. Louis. That night's speaker, former Israeli soldier Oded Na'aman, "misrepresented and demonized the Israel Defense Forces" and claimed that IDF soldiers "are trained to oppress the Palestinians individually and as a people, that they maliciously mistreat Palestinians in the West Bank, and that they are taught to make Palestinians fear Israeli soldiers," pro-Israel activist Hen Mazzig wrote in an op-ed for JNS.org.

"BtS is known for bringing in speakers like this, so I could not understand why Hillel and J Street U had sponsored a talk whose only purpose appeared to be to misinform audiences and instill hostility towards Israel," Mazzig wrote.

Posted on May 13, 2014 .